Bruce Garrard is an activist, the writer of five books, and the creator of Unique Publications. His book The River, about the River Brue in Somerset, inspired me when I was recently doing research on the Somerset Levels. His inspiration comes from the movie Aluna, about the Kogi people of Columbia, who say, ‘whatever you do, look after your rivers!’ They would take objects from one place, to another place, to connect land and waters. So Bruce realised that what he needed to do was to take shells from the mouth of the river Brue, which he calls ‘the disconnected river’, to the source.
Bruce describes it as a beautiful and magical experience. He found little green and pink seashells at Uphill, and he and some friends put them into a stone structure where the river rises. They each made this payment, stood there in silence by the spring, and felt that the river said THANK YOU! After one thousand years, someone finally took notice. It was a feeling, but very clear. That summer Bruce walked the entire length of the Brue and wrote the history of its disruption and disconnection. This history is getting him lots of public talks! He also recently hosted a showing of Aluna with ‘the Brue Crew’, who have begun tidying up the river.
Bruce follows the Sufi tradition of Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee, who wrote a four-point plan for creating change: Witnessing, Grieving, Prayer and Action. This book was the Witnessing. Bruce found the Grieving part difficult, especially for a man of this modern Western culture. But he wrote a book called Petroc of Glastonbury. It is set in the era of Celtic Christianity, which is the history section in the book The River that really grabbed me, and I could tell that Bruce loved writing it! At the time of the Celtic Church, the Bible and the natural world were both the revelation of God in an equal way. The Romans had gone, Druidry was a wreck, but something about nature connection was still there in the people, and it manifested in this particular form of Christianity. That was lost when the Saxons arrived, and with them came the Catholic Church.
Instead of writing another history, Bruce decided to write a novel, which he’d never done before. The aim was to get in touch with the grief of the people who had lost that connection with the natural world. The Celtic Church was based around the whole area of the Severn Estuary. When the Saxons took over Somerset it became a Welsh tradition, but originally it was in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall as well. I feel its remnants are very prominent still in Glastonbury, in some ways.
Bruce isn’t yet sure how to do the third book: Prayer. He says it’s not something he really does! But he goes to the same part of the river pretty much every day and takes photos. Today he took one in the snow! Maybe something will come out of that, or with poetry. With Action, it might be a project he decides to do. Watch this space!
When Bruce first came to Glastonbury in the 70s there was an identifiable community, much smaller than there is now. It was great fun. Ten years later he returned when Greenlands Farm was opened as a sanctuary after the Battle of the Beanfield. Suddenly there were 200 people there! Bruce had been an activist at the proposed missile site of Molesworth (with Juliette!), and found Greenlands a place to call home.
There was something at the time called the Enterprise Allowance scheme, which was a way of slightly artificially reducing unemployment figures at the time. Anyone who had a business idea could apply for the allowance and get paid every week. By the time he got to Glastonbury Bruce was running a business called Unique Publications, going to festivals with a duplicator in the back of a van running off newsletters and poetry sheets! There are many publications on Bruce’s website.
In Glastonbury Bruce rented a shop just off the High Street, and then he moved to the shop where the Speaking Tree is now. At the end of his first day at the shop he thought that he would probably last three years, but he was there ten! Then he had an office in a building behind the shop for the next twenty years. Those years on the High Street were the most vivid in his memory, very exciting times! He was also heavily involved in setting up the Assembly Rooms, which a group of people bought outright so they wouldn’t have to pay rent. He and his friends ended up completely taking over the whole bottom of the High St and making it very vibrant!
Bruce wrote the story of how the intentional community in Glastonbury arrived and grew, in a book called Free State, which is the name of the magazine Bruce used to edit. The story runs from the 70s to the Millenium. The picture on the front is of the Tor on Millenium eve, which was a spectacular event! Since the Millenium, Bruce hasn’t felt that Glastonbury has been quite as exciting: things don’t feel the same. Before there was a feeling that the world was changing, but Bruce now wonders if that was unrealistic. There were articles in magazines in the 80s about Global Warming. The feeling was they had reached a crossroads and if we go that way we’ll make it, if not we’ll miss our chance. It looks like we took the wrong turning!
I read something recently about the people of that era. They had such good intentions, but not any elders to guide the way, no one to look to for advice. Now we have, perhaps, a new generation of people wanting to change things. And now we do have elders: we can learn from those people who thrived back in the 70s and 80s, what worked and what mistakes were made. If that is the case, I am in the perfect place in Glastonbury, because this is where Bruce is, Juliette is, and many people! I worry that the people of that time may feel a bit jaded and have given up. The film Aluna came at the perfect time, Bruce was looking for something different, a new motivation, and he found it!
What Bruce has done with the River is a big step forward for this new kind of world. Reconnecting with the earth needs to be priority. He can remember meetings with Green Activists who didn’t do that, and who sit around smoking and ‘being really intense’! If you can’t look after your own internal ecology what chance do you have?? Sacred Activism, Spiritual Ecology, these are the ways forward! What Llewellyn suggests is: don’t do anything on a big scale. Firstly, because bigger organisations get corrupted. Secondly, things are bad, and we must look after our internal ecology, personally and community-wide. So priority must be keeping life lit, even if it’s small. What Bruce found profound about the four point plan is that it is Witnessing, Grieving, Prayer and then Action: by the time you get to Action your mind-set is completely changed, and you are ready to act.
So what’s next for Bruce? He is very interested in his own family history. He’s found something written by one of his ancestors, Reverend William Garrard, a Baptist minister. The Revd wrote a book about his spiritual experiences. When Bruce got involved in Sufism, he found many parallels to his ancestors’ experiences. Bruce knows a lot about his life through inheriting the family Bible, which had a family tree and many other notes with it. He lived in Norfolk and East Anglia, and then ended up in a Baptist Chapel in Leicester, where he was a well-known character. Bruce is interested in filling in the gaps to the story, so if anyone reading this has any information please get in touch with Bruce at the website link below! He doesn’t know what this will turn into, but more writing is definitely on the cards for the future!
Bruce has also been involved in the anti-bypass activism in Glastonbury (for more info see Bruce’s blog), which came as a surprise to him because he thought he’d given up activism! He wants to do it in a very different way, without polarising ‘the enemy’ or treating them badly. I recently watched the documentary The Battle of the Newbury Bypass, which inspired me to join Glastonbury Friends of the Earth, because they gave huge to the support to those protesters. The bypass got built, but they scrapped many plans for other bypasses, including the plans that are being re-kindled for the bypass in Glastonbury! Six months after joining the FoE group, I found out about this bypass potentially being built.
We did a fundraiser in October for fracking protectors at Blackpool, and Bruce came. Many people mentioned that the atmosphere there was similar to the times of Molesworth and Greenham Common, and Bruce agrees! The band Seize the Day were there, who met at the Battle of the Newbury Bypass. It’s all coming together, no such thing as coincidence!
So whoever is thinking that the bypass in Glastonbury will be built had better be prepared: we’ll be ready!
Unique Publications: www.unique-publications.co.uk